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Summary:

What the CES or the Mobile World Congress is to gadgets, SXSW is to apps. I’m amazed by not only the number of apps that are launching, but by how prepared attendees are to try new apps out. Mobile-focused development has reached a tipping point.

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What the Consumer Electronics Show or the Mobile World Congress is to gadgets, South by Southwest is to apps. I’m both impressed and amazed by not only the number of apps that are launching here, but also how prepared attendees are to hear about an app and immediately download it to try it out. In my first night out at events on Thursday, I had no fewer than six people get into app-sharing conversations where they showed off what they’d downloaded and then exchanged recommendations.

It’s like a massive early adopter focus group that’s eager to try out software with no questions asked, other than “what service are you on?” or “when will your Android app come out?” For anyone trying to gain a user group and get feedback it must feel like the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. However, as an Android user, I’m still at a disadvantage, since most apps are being designed for Apple’s iOS platform first.

This has spawned several conversations with developers about fragmentation on platforms and fragmentation across devices, but for the most part, everyone just accepts the fragmentation of the mobile device market as a fact of life. Some believe the number of platforms will gradually shrink and expect tools to come out that will help them span across the same OS on different sized devices, and others are relying on the web and HTML5 as a one-size-fits-all kind of option. Regardless, this is the first year I’ve felt that most people “get it” with their apps and web services, realizing that mobile should come first in their development efforts.

I’ve seen several presentations of apps that don’t have a web site, just an app, and others that basically offer a landing page that directs people to the app store. There are still some laggards that admit their apps are crap or who are still building them, but those seem to be outnumbered by those focused on mobile. The only sad part is that mobile has become synonymous with an app, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me that a browser-based or HTML5 approach will win out. Developers, what do you think? If you’re at SXSW do you think mobile-focused development has hit a tipping point?

  1. Mobile apps are the new websites!

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    1. Websites that require a specific web browser (or device). Yeah, that’s real encouraging.

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  2. Can’t help believing the iPad 2 is going to revolutionize corporate presentations. All you need now is an HDMI adapter and cable. Pretty easy way to travel.

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  3. There needs to be a Google for all these apps. I can never find the ones I’m looking for…

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  4. App Store semantic search and discovery at http://iapps.in will come handy for SXSW app lovers.

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  5. Prior to founding our location-based service (LBS) start-up, we had a discussion on where to focus our resources: iPhone, Android, or HTML5. We quickly dismissed HTML5 because we wanted direct access to a variety of sensors. Our decision to avoid HTML5 was reinforced by the fact that the team behind Instagram built and later disposed of a location-based HTML5 app (i.e., “Burbn”). In the end, we started development on the Android platform because of its native text-to-speech (TTS) capabilities.

    I strongly believe that apps are the immediate future. It is going to take a longtime for the standardizations process to catch-up and make browsers competitive. While this might lead to some short-term fragmentation and development pain, I think it will also spawn a great deal of innovation.

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  6. Is anyone there share apps for the windows 7 phone? Just curious about this. Wish I could have gone this year.

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    1. I’ve seen a few. I saw one company presenting themselves on Windows phones, although they have Android and iPhone apps too. I asked them about it, and they confirmed what I expected: Microsoft sponsored them.

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  7. “The only sad part is that mobile has become synonymous with an app.” Not for me, either as a user or as a developer. The most-used app on my Android phone is still the Google Reader web app. I tried the native app, but I found it less convenient. And CardVine Mobile, the mobile-specialized interface to the virtual business cards service I just launched, is a web app. I do plan to release native versions of CardVine, but I have no intention of abandoning the web app, which will always get new features and bug fixes first.

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  8. While I used to think that mobile web sites would eventually be the way to deliver services, customers have chosen mobile applications served through App Stores. Product strategy should be ‘Mobile Apps'(iOS, Android) first, with “mobile web’ a close second to cover the other platforms (RIM, WinMo7).

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  9. I know I’m a luddite when it comes to apps (thank you blackberry) but why should apps be the defacto environment to build for? I understand the numbers (smart phones + tablets >> laptops + desktops) and time spent (apps ~= or > web browsers) but unless you believe your target customer is more mobile than stationary why would you have only an app version and no web version?

    From a UX standpoint an app is good if there are few choices to make, there’s minimal text entry and there’s an inherent location based element to the app. Otherwise generally the full web version should offer a better UX. What am I missing? thank you.

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    1. Native apps do have access to more phone features (e.g., Bluetooth), but the main reason I plan to release native apps for my service CardVine has to do with the behavior of humans, not the behavior of apps. It’s simply that many people habitually look in app stores, especially the iTunes store, whenever they want to do something new with their phones. Many of them don’t even understand the difference between web apps and native apps. Even at SXSWi, where you might expect everyone to understand such things, they don’t.

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  10. Andy Pickett Sunday, March 13, 2011

    For our game QONQR (Sxsw Accelerator Finalist) we chose the HTML5 + geolocation route to prototype our beta. Well iterate in html till we get the gameplay and flow just right. As an indie game studio we chose Webapp for wide availability and early feedback over rich and speedy, but longer to dev, native apps.

    That said our native versions WILL be in dev immediately following the final web version. The rich UX and AppStore/marketplace discoverability is too hard to beat.

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